PROVO — When I was in college Mary Poppins was playing on Broadway. One of my college professors attended the production along with several other shows. After returning from his trip, he told us that the best show was Mary Poppins, and that it was one we should all see someday. It went on the list of shows I really want to see. However, I didn’t want to just see a mediocre production. This week I was able to see a production of Mary Poppins, directed by George D. Nelson and based on the novels of P. L. Travers, as it opened at BYU, and much to my pleasure it was indeed a top notch production.
As I entered the auditorium the curtain was raised, giving me time to take in the set before the official start of the show. Rear projections filled four tall vertical screens with a night time city scene. A simple two story platform with arches and columns adorned with corinthian capitals was place in front of the projection screens. To each side of the stage was a tall arch framing a lit statue on a pedestal. These statues were actually living statues and as they changed positions I could see children in the audience point to them in excitement. This set design, by Michael Handley, provided ample performance levels along with flexibility to quickly change locations without a lot of hubbub. To add to the delight, the projections weren’t just still background images. The projections were also used to help show Mary Poppins flying in from the distance and Jane’s and Michael’s nanny advertisement rising up in pieces through the chimney and into the air. The only thing I did not care for in the set design was that the tall arches on each side of the stage had ionic capitals on the top that seemed unnecessary and a bit distracting in contrast to the simplicity of the arches they were adorning.
I have rarely seen young actors perform as well as Elise Jones and Connor Phillips did in their portrayals of Jane and Michael Banks. As Jane was dragged about by a magical broom, she really seemed to being under the control of the broom. Never overly melodramatic, Jones kept a high energy level that lasted through the entire performance. Phillips did excellent with his clogging solo during “Step In Time.” I really enjoyed that neither Jane or Michael appeared overly spoiled or whiney, but rather normal children who occasionally misbehave. I also loved their interactions with their parents.
George Banks (played by Nick Summers) and Winifred Banks (played by Carolyn Keller) were much more developed in the stage production than in the film version. Keller did well at portraying a woman who wants to truly be a good wife and mother, and not just a trophy wife. She was a kind woman who was fiercely loyal to her family. I loved seeing glimpses of the woman she was before she was Mrs. Bank and the Mrs. Banks she wanted to me. I also loved seeing her relationship with Mr. Banks continue to grow, even after years of marriage and two children. Just as there were many glimpses of Mrs. Banks, past and present, there were also many of Mr. Banks. I appreciated Summers’s portrayal of Mr. Banks. There was so much growth and progression in this particular character, as he moved from not wanting to be disturbed by his children to dancing a jig in the bank (one of my favorite moments).
Mary Poppins was performed by Sariah Hopkin. “Practically perfect in every way” is the only phrase to describe Hopkin’s performance. From her vocals, to her dancing, to her acting, Hopkin nailed the role. Her Mary Poppins wasn’t overly stern and seemed to truly love Jane and Michael, even when she was chastising them. She made me love Mary as I never have before. Hopkin had a delightful happy energy that made her dancing seem effortless and contagious. Her vocal range was equally strong from the low notes to the high notes and everywhere in between. I can see why Bert (played by Caleb Jenson) was so fond of Mary. Bert was also full of energy and helped to tied the entire cast and show together, especially with his showcased dancing.
This production was excellently choreographed by Jenny Giauque-Tingey and Becky Wright Phillips. There was such a variety of dance styles in this production from elements of ballet, to modern, tap, ballroom, and even a flash of Latin, all of which combined to keep the show interesting. I particularly enjoyed the duet between the statues and later between young George and Winifred Banks. I was laso impressed with the accuracy in the choreography execution during “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the energy during “Step in Time.” The entire cast performed remarkably well with the amount of dancing they were called upon to perform.
Yet, the dancing was not the only area in which the entire cast thrived. The singing was superbly strong throughout the entire show and made the songs by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, George Stiles, and Anthony Drewe completely delightful. For example, the voices Mary Poppins and the Bird Woman (Heather McDonald) blended together beautifully in “Feed the Birds.” At times I had to make sure I knew who was singing the solo lines as their voices flowed back and forth so smoothly.
All elements of this production were well designed and executed. This production required a lot creativity from the prop designer (Taylor Robinson), to create magically functioning props, and he met the challenge admirably. Another strength of this production was the costume design (by Rory Scanlon) for George Banks. As his character became more comfortable with who he was his suits became more bold. Scanlon also made the other actors’ costumes muted before Mary arrives and added to color as Mary touches the lives of those people she comes in contact with. As the show progressed, so did the amount of color found in the characters costumes.
This production was everything I had hoped for and more. BYU has set a high standard for 2017 productions in this state. If you have the room in your schedule you need to see BYU’s production of Mary Poppins. It is the best musical production I’ve seen recently, and I know I’d love to see it again. The show is longer than most coming in at three hours, but it is the among the most enjoyable three hours I spent in a theatre. This production is appropriate for all ages and children four years and older are welcome to attend. Hurry and see it before it closes on February 4th.